Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Change Cars for Long Point: Schooner Days DCCCXLVI (846)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 8 May 1948
Full Text
Change Cars for Long Point
Schooner Days DCCCXLVI (846)

by C. H. J. Snider

CORANET'S starboard quarter sea-door closed with a clang like the ark's window being slammed down, and Capt. Reg Parker and his crew of four were off for the day's work in Lake Erie while May Day was still a figure of speech.

When the tug passed the green lamp of the pierhead lighthouse night was yet in the sky but a twinkle on the southern horizon seemed to promise the rising of the morning star. It was not that, but Long Point lighthouse eighteen miles away.

Capt. Parker turned the hands of the pilothouse dumb-dial to 6.01, corresponding for the moment with the watch ticking above it. A fish tug runs as close to schedule as a train, and logs depths like a nurse does temperatures. Then you know how far you are from your nets, and where you are in a fog, and where—and sometimes when—the fish are running, or not running.


The Coranet of Port Dover (probably so spelled because her name may be made up from more than one) was 60 feet of streamlined steel plate. shaped to keep water out from below, above and both sides. No texas, engine house or smokestack broke her profile, for she burned oil instead of coal, and her sides were plated up to a covering sky-deck. This ran from stem to stern, with a reverse curve forward to shed the water. Ventilators, hatches, and a low bridge over the big steering wheel (like a schooner's) broke the line of this deck. The two-foot bridge provided a small pilot house or conning tower, with windows ahead and on both sides. Within it, narrow ledges made lockers and hard shelves for sleeping.

In the plating above the bulwarks three long square ports let in light on each side, and there were in all four big hinged sea-doors, like those of some garages, for working the nets. When they were closed and battened the Coranet was as waterproof as a bottle.

She could keep the lake when freighters ten times her length could not leave port. Her streamlining not only kept her dry. but ice-free— more or less. Flung spray could hardly lie long enough to freeze on those smooth plates, one would think.

"But the best of 'em will ice up on you if its cold enough." conceded Capt. Parker.


He hauled his Coranet on a course SbyE3/4E, just like that, and nibbled breakfast over the wheelspokes, never taking his eyes off the water turning to pearl in the dawn; satisfied to find a sliver of a net-buoy here and there in the exact position it should occupy in 20 mile wide Long Point Bay.

The first thing his crew of four had done when they came aboard in the dark (having left home at 5) was to light a fire in the fat steel cylinder between the two after sea-doors. The draft was good and in a few minutes the soft coal was flaming yellow, and even the pebbled steel plates of the deck were warm.

Nets, buoys, all the required gear had been piled neatly in splay-sided wooden trays on the quarterdeck the night before, so without ado the boys squatted and made a thermos-flask breakfast around the stove, finishing with cigarettes smoked from holders.


They all looked young, younger than their years, with their keen merry eyes, weather-tanned cheeks and firm clean-shaven chins. In their cloth caps, windbreakers, seaboots and overalls they looked like a working party of Royal Canadian engineers. One might have been a front-line padre. Most of the two hundred and fifty fishermen of Port Dover were in one or other of the armed forces during the war.

These lads had the same deepset far-sighted eyes as the Lunenburg and Newfoundland fishermen of the Grand Banks; but were slimmer waisted, of longer, lankier Ontario stock. Perhaps the p.t. in the army gave this impression.

In the Coranet, as in all first-class fishermen and coasters, there was no uniform but overalls, no rank but excellence, no obvious discipline, for none was needed. If a man didn't know his job he wouldn't be there. If he didn't do his job he wouldn't earn anything. Hence, very few orders, and the ship running as if on roller bearings.

The first man aboard, Harold Walker, the engineer, had lighted the fire and turned the engine over. Jack Mummery, Hector Butchart and Alvin Gibbons had loaded the package of lighthouse groceries and whatever was waiting on the wharf, taken in the lines, and closed the sea-doors. The skipper went to the wheelhouse and took her out alone without a word of command, because he knew the boys knew what to do without him telling them. That's fisherman fashion of the best the world over from Bluenose down to dory.


The Coranet crew were not braggy, but they had a proper pride in themselves, their tug, and their town. They made $200 a week—sometimes. Sometimes $35. Sometimes—.

The tug was one of two operated by the Parker Bros., the Dona K being the other. Port Dover, they'd tell the world, was the biggest fresh fish port on the Great Lakes. A glimpse in the dawn darkness at the extensive plant of W. F. Kolbe and Co.—Carl Kolbe, its head, proved a prince—and the fish stores of other companies, the fish tugs lining both sides of the Lynn River, and the long lines of net reels and pound net poles, had already suggested the eminence of the place.

Three million pounds of fish, 1,500 tons of food, was taken from the lake last year.

There must be a million dollars invested at Port Dover to take the whitefish, lake trout, herring, smelts, sturgeon, sheepsheads and carp from Lake Erie and Long Point Bay, principally, like most Canadian effort, to feed Americans who pay well for it. There are thirty steel tugs in the fleet, and those tugs cannot be built and engined for less than $15,000 apiece. There goes half a million. The working tug crews account for 150 fishermen. Another hundred fishermen work ashore on maintenance, or in the packing, shipping and storage plants, or at making and setting nets, net buoys, fish boxes, boats, gear and piles for the traps and pound nets.


At 7.01 on the watch, and of course still 6.01 on the dummy dial, Capt.Parker altered course to S. This reminds of the dialogue between Capt. Dick Smith, lying in his bunk in the stonehooker E. Bailey, and his greenhorn one-man crew fidgetting at the tiller on deck.

Capt. Smith—"How's she head on the compass?"

Greenhorn—"What does S mean?" Capt. Smith—"South, you numbskull. How's she head?"

Greenhorn—Dead on it, she's been that way for the last hour."

Capt. Smith came up in his shirt tail to find his ship hard and fast aground in a dead calm.

But it was not the same with the Coranet. She was changing the venue fast. The Mayday sun had pushed aside the lowslung curtains of his bed and glittered on the skim ice which had formed on the water in the night. The flash which had twinkled like a morning star from Port Dover had been replaced by a slim tapered pencil, upended on a ragged typewriter ribbon. What had seemed the rim of Lake Erie resolved into a tree-thatched horizon.


The ribbon was Long Point, the pencil Long Point lower light, almost in the middle of the lake at, this longitude, 18 miles from Port Dover, Ontario, 25 miles from Erie, Pennsylvania, with boundless water all around.

"Long Point, a dreary island slant" in Abigail Becker's time, ninety-four years ago, and not much different now. Two miles outside Long Point is the deepest water in Lake Erie, over 30 fathoms, sometimes 200 feet when the lake brims high. This, of course, is too deep for pound nets, but good for gilling. and the fish tugs go so far out that they can sight the American city of Erie on the south shore. Somewhere out there, far beyond Long Point, in the windy wastes of Lake Erie, the Coranet's day's work lay, among nets swung between invisible mark - buoys, locatable only by ranges and running time. Loaded or empty, they all had to be hauled, underrun, and set again before she could come home.

But that was not where the Coranet was going when she hauled up to S. She was turning aside just to be obliging, to land a box of lightkeeper's groceries—and me. Which is why the Schooner Days saga of the Kellys, of which there remains much to tell, is thus temporarily interrupted.

The Coranet stood in to within a mile of the long sandbar and blew her siren. The hundred-foot shaft of the tallest lake lighthouse loomed high in the sky now. The fog signal station, the radio headquarters, the abandoned lifesaving station, the lightkeeper's residence and boathouse were all shining clear in the bright May sun. But no sign of life. Coranet blew and blew again. "It's only half past seven on a Saturday morning," said Reg Parker tolerantly, looking at the wheelhouse watch, "and the keeper's been up through the night to wind his flashgear. I'll blow again."

Then tiny figures emerged from the house and a tiny green pea popped out of the boathouse and into the water, and in a few minutes a green-hulled speedboat was bobbing alongside in the chop of the morning breeze, like Noah's dove coming back. Our sea-door opened, cheery chat was exchanged, the groceries delivered, Schooner Days transferred. The Coranet plunged off for Lake Erie and the speedboat hurried for the lighthouse landing.

We were at Long Point. We had started for it in spirit quite a while ago, when we first read Amanda T. Jones' poem in the high school reader prevalent in the "old grammar school," Toronto Collegiate Institute, grandmother of the present Jarvis street. Nine times, in our schoonering, we had sailed past it in two-masters and three-masters, and once in a steam barge. And here we were at last, in the flesh, and on the shore.


"A GREEN PEA POPPED OUT OF THE BOATHOUSE" - Lighthouse keeper LORNE BROWN comes off in his speedboat for his groceries and Schooner Days.



Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Date of Publication
8 May 1948
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.5469278366258 Longitude: -80.0732679351807
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 42.7834 Longitude: -80.19966
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Change Cars for Long Point: Schooner Days DCCCXLVI (846)